Young shooter driven to win by more than gold
But the 19-year-old isn’t going for the ultimate prize in Rio de Janeiro for himself. He wants to take first place on the winner’s podium for his father who died five years ago.
Kim earned national fame after he became the youngest Korean shooter to win a gold medal in the men’s 10-meter pistol individual at the 2013 Incheon Asian Games.
But what moved fans was Kim’s love for his father who passed away when Kim was 14. Kim vowed to take care of his mother and sister at his father’s graveside. When he got the gold medal in the Asian Games, he visited his father’ grave and dedicated his gold medal to him.
Kim graduated from Heungdeok High School in Cheongju, North Chungcheong, this month and has been receiving lots of offers from college scouts. But instead of going to college, he has decided to join the shooting team under Hanwha Galleria.
“Now, I have to make money,” Kim said. “I think by doing that, my father won’t be sorry for our family and rest in peace.”
Kim’s father, who was former taekwondo practitioner, originally didn’t want his son becoming an athlete, but later accepted his son’s chosen path. But when Kim moved to Bokdae Middle School in Cheongju, which has a shooting club, in Dec. 2010, and started his career to become a top class shooter, the Senior Kim passed away abruptly. After suffering a fractured rib, he died within just three hours in hospital.
The tragedy put Kim’s mother Oh Jae-myung into depression, while his sister, Kim Da-jung, gave up her college life and worked for a semiconductor manufacturer to make money.
“After my father died, my mother cried every day,” Kim said. “My mother smiled just briefly when I won shooting tournaments, so I’ve been trying harder to win.”
Oh said Kim gave her 30 million won ($24,410), which he collected from the prize money and other revenues after the Asian Games gold medal.
“My son once told me that he wants to buy land and wants to move his father’s grave to near the family’s house,” Oh said. “I just had to shed tears after I heard that.”
Oh, 48, is proud of her son. She said her mother (Kim’s maternal grandmother) is also sick, and Kim is also helping her.
“Kim said to his grandmother that she should live long till he shows her his Olympic gold medal,” Oh said. “He also told me that he will cover 80,000 won daily cost of caring for his grandmother. He is that kind of devoted son.”
Kim was just like any other boy who liked to play shooting games with his friends, but he became a different boy after his father died. Kim said he quit playing with friends for two years after he started serious shooting for his sport.
“One day, I even practiced for 22 hours, from 9 a.m. to 7 a.m. the next morning,” he said. “When my father allowed me to practice shooting, he told me not to give up. So, I just kept trying.”
Kim has been proving that his Asian Games gold medal isn’t a surprising, one-off result. Last August, he won the ISSF World Cup 10-meter air pistol, and in October, he beat his idol Jin Jong-oh at the National Sports Festival in the men’s 50-meter pistol event. Jin has won three gold medals and two silver medals in the Olympics.
“I noticed that Jin is the No.1 in the world after I started shooting,” Kim said. “I still have his autograph he gave me when I was in middle school. I want to be like him.”
Kim and Jin will have to fight for a spot in the Olympics. Starting in March, there will be five rounds of national team selection qualifications. Only the top two players in the qualifications will advance to the Games.
In the 10-meter air pistol and 50-meter pistol events, two main categories that Kim competes, there are also top-class shooters like Lee Dae-myung, Choi Young-rae, and Park Dae-hun.
Kim is rare left-handed shooter.
A single mistake in shooting is critical and a weak mentality isn’t an option for a shooter. While Kim has to struggle against many distractions, there is also another issue that bothered him: rhinitis.
“Because of rhinitis, I have to wipe my nose often,” Kim said. “But, interestingly, I don’t have a runny nose when I’m on the shooting place.”
Kim believes his father is helping him when he shoots and hopes a little luck from heaven can help bring him good results on his road to the Olympics. “When I shoot, there are certain times that a bullet hits a bull’s eye, even if I thought I made a mistake,” he said. “Before I pull the trigger, I always say to myself ‘father, I can do this well,’ but I think my father is helping me from heaven.”
BY PARK RIN, JOO KYUNG-DON [firstname.lastname@example.org]